"Ever since I was little, I have sometimes seen strange things. As others cannot see them, they are most likely what you would call 'youkai'".
A shoujomanga by Yuki Midorikawa and fifty-two episode anime. Also known as Natsume Yūjinchō.Natsume Takashi is one of those manga protagonists. All of his life, he has possessed the ability to see spirits. He's been tossed about from home to home for most of his life, unable to fully interact or be honest with people due to the way they tended to react to his bizarre ability. As a result he is Not Good with Peopleat all. So yeah, kid's got angst.Natsume's ability to see spirits is a power he inherited from his grandmother, Reiko, who made a personal hobby out of gathering the names of as many spirits ("Youkai") as possible binding them to her servitude via writing their names in the titular Book Of Friends - a highly prized item that many denizens of the spirit world desire for themselves. Upon her death, Reiko bequeaths to her grandson several of her belongings - including the Book.Upon discovering the purpose of the Book of Friends, Natsume makes it his mission to return all of the names his Grandmother took to their appropriate spirits. Yes, including the evil ones who want to kill him. He spends his time releasing the various spirits that come to him for help from their contracts and trying to stay alive in the face of the ones who'd rather just eat him and take the book for themselves.One spirit in particular, Madara (aka Nyanko-sensei), who spends most of his time in the body of a lucky cat (when he's not going One-Winged Angel on us in which case he appears to be an giant inugami), is particularly helpful when it comes to the not-letting-Natsume-get-eaten thing. He serves as Natsume's bodyguard and spiritual adviser, and his main motivation is apparently to possess the Book of Friends - which Natsume has promised to Madara, should he be killed.There is an anime based on the manga, in four thirteen-episode seasons (the third aired in the Summer 2011 Anime Season and the fourth in the Winter 2012 Anime Season).An appropriate word of description for this series would probably be "heartwarming". It's been described as "Tactics, but less violent", though it definitely has its moments. The occasional outbursts of action are balanced out against gentle explorations of the supernatural, basically it's a light-on-plot, Slice of Life take on the spirit world, and a sometimes exciting, sometimes peaceful foray into the world of the supernatural. And it's packed with more Crowning Moments Of Heartwarming and TearJerkers than you can shake a stick at.Has a Character Sheet that desperately needs more love. Tropes Used.
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Abusive Parents: Natsume once had an abusive drunk as a guardian, and another that purposely neglected to feed him.
Androcles Lion: Saving youkai occasionally turns out to be unexpectedly useful later on.
One extremely powerful youkai jumps to Natsume's defence, saving Natsume and Natori from an evil ayakashi trying to eat them, because Natsume helped him earlier in the episode. This is a pretty big reward considering all Natsume did was cover up a puddle in the road so that his servants could pass despite the fact they could just as easily have walked around it. It was probably a Secret Test of Character or something...
It might have more to do with the East Asian concept of honor and duty. Quite a few Chinese (and I'm sure Japanese as well) folktales have people or spirits repaying small debts in grandiose manner.
That, or the servants weren't smart enough to figure that out.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Sure, Natsume believes in spirits, but not fairies. Fairies couldn't possibly exist.
Author Appeal/Signature Style: partially covered faces. The more human(oid) a particular youkai looks, the higher is the chance that is would have its face partially or completely covered most of the time. Benio, Hinoe, Hiiragi, Tsubame, and several others have something ( butterfly / hair / Noh mask / veil / etc. ) covering part or whole of their face. Even Natsume does this to pass off as a youkai.
Because You Were Nice to Me: The Fujiwaras were the only guardians who ever wanted Natsume to live with them. And it's this that pulls Natsume off the brink of the Despair Event Horizon and gives him enough courage to fight back against the Ayakashi that wanted to make him its "pet".
Bishōnen: A number of the male characters, but actor and part time exorcist Natori really plays it up, complete with the rosepetal motifs and bishie sparklies. In his own words, he can't help being fabulous.
Our hero Takashi is Bishonen enough on his own, looking almost exactly like his grandmother did at his age but with short hair and, obviously, no breasts. Especially when he's returning a spirit's name, and he has a slip of paper in his mouth, and his hair is fluttering in the wind...
And the long eyelashes, don't forget those.
Bishie Sparkle: Actor and part time exterminator Natori gets at least one parody of this in almost every episode he appears. Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei like to mock him for this.
Big Damn Heroes: Many characters in the series pull this off but mostly Madara, who usually arrives just in time to save Natsume when he gets in over his head.
Bitter Sweet Ending: Several episodes, notably episode two, where the shrine "god"'s last worshiper dies, and he vanishes along with her, only to meet her immediately in the afterlife, and finally speak with her. Natsume even offers to take her place, but the spirit claims that won't work "because you and I are friends".
In the manga, the two don't meet in the afterlife. Instead, the "god" simply disappears, though Natsume does say that he hopes the two of them saw each other again.
Also, any episode dealing with a broken bond between a Human and Youkai. Because, you know, they don't all hate each other. The staggering briefness of a human's life in comparison to that of a youkai is a point of interest, scorn, and even heartbreak amongst them.
Body Snatcher: One or two get their hands on Natsume. There's also the mask youkai in chapters 53 and 54.
Brought Down to Normal: A minor character in one episode could once see the youkai - but at some point, his ability mysteriously vanished, leaving Natsume to wonder whether the same thing might happen to him one day.
And then next season, it temporarily does.
But He Sounds Handsome: Nyanko-sensei (in Madara form) indulges in this when he and Natsume go searching for a black Nyanko-sensei doppelganger. It backfires.
Madara: Have you seen a lovely black cat with a sheaf of papers in his mouth around here?
Benio: No, but I did see a gluttonous, fat-headed one running towards the Youkai banquet grounds.
Season 3, Episode 6 leaving Natsume unconscious and at Matoba's mercy.
Natsume Yuujinchou Shi episode six: The episode revolves around Nyanko sensei's efforts to get Natsume out of a magic jar. Turns out it wasn't just a joke; an ayakashi that intended on taking Natsume in the night so he could be used as an offering to a powerful spirit was the one that tossed it in, and he does eventually 'nab poor Natsume. The episode ends there.
Contrived Coincidence: Many years ago, Reiko befriended a young boy who lived in the same neighborhood as she did. She even exorcises a malicious spirit from his house. Said boy was Shigeru, the adopted father of her grandson Natsume and the house became inhabited by the same evil spirit again, leaving Reiko's grandson to finish the job.
Creepy Child: Natsume and Reiko were considered this while growing up.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Nyanko sensei. It's subverted though. You know almost right off the bat that his somewhat laughable cat form isn't the real him and that he's an extremely powerful ayakashi.
Cute Monster Girl: While most Youkai resemble inhuman or Gonkish monsters, there's a number of youkai that instead resemble Petting Zoo People or attractive individuals wearing masks. There's a couple of Bishōnen among them, but many of them are female.
Dark Is Not Evil: A few of the ayakashi seem Obviously Evil at first but end up averting it. Special mention goes to season three episode two's focus guest character and Misuzu, who seems intimidating and callous at first but proves to be very much on Natsume's side.
Despair Event Horizon: Natsume was on the border of one before he was taken in by the Fujiwaras, nearly resigning himself to become the pet of one of the many Youkai that stalked him because he felt like he had nowhere else he could go.
Fantastic Racism: The antagonistic Matoba clan holds the Youkai to be creatures inherently inferior to humans, believing they possess no emotion or empathy and are thus meant to be in human service. The context is upped in season 4, where the Matoba's aggressively hunt a tribal clan of monkey youkai (wearing tribal masks and brandishing spears, no less) who openly wonder what they ever did to humans to deserve this treatment. Matoba is later seen punishing one of them for the "crime" of entering a human home.
Festival Episode: the final episode of the first season, and a few lower-key ones after that.
Flash Back: Natsume gets a few, usually to childhood events. When he returns a youkai's name to them, it's accompanied by a Flashback to the event during which they lost their name to Reiko in the first place.
Foil: Reiko and Natsume, Natori and Natsume, Matoba and Natsume, Natori and Matoba... in fact, any human dealing constantly with youkai are this for each other.
Foreshadowing: In episode eight of the first series, Natsume thinks on how horrible it would be to suddenly not be able to see youkai any longer - and surprises himself when he realizes how much he means it, when he's spent all his life wishing to be ordinary. This makes it all the worse in the sequel series when he actually does lose his ability.
Geometric Magic: Natsume can call forth youkai in the book of friends that he's seen and knows the name by drawing a magic circle, have a mirror, and giving a part of himself (blood would do).
Natori has magic circle patterns he uses in exorcising.
Taki has a magic circle pattern, passed down from her grandfather, that allows youkai to be seen by anyone.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: the second chapter of the manga has a local spirit who is greatly reduced in power because hardly anybody believes in him any more, and dies when his last sincere worshipper does. (Interestingly, Natsume can't help with this, because it needs to be worship as a god rather than mere belief that the spirit exists.)
Humans Are Bastards: a few youkai are of this opinion, and many have good reason to be, but it's not by and by the rule. The anime is far from leaning in favour of this trope alone. It also shows that humans can be pretty awesome sometimes, too and many Youkai either have a fascination with them, just don't find them all that interesting, or want to make a tasty snack out of them.
Idiot Crows: Joked with in episode 11 of series one, where Nyanko-Sensei yells at the crows not to call him an idiot.
I See Them Too: Natsume's meeting with Natori has this result. Natsume also asks Tanuma whether he can see the youkai standing on the school field - Tanuma claims he can't - but he does see a vague shadow of their presence.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: One youkai's human love can no longer see her and has since grown to fall for another, human woman - the youkai is only glad that he has found someone to love again and isn't lonely anymore.
Kids Are Cruel: Many children shunned and rejected Natsume through his childhood because he openly told people that he could see ayakashi at the time. When he'd learned his lesson, the damage had already been done. Many kids laughed at him. In season 2, you learn that some children even followed him home and threw rocks at him as a sick game of make-fun-of-the-weird-kid.
Kimodameshi: The "Test of Courage" occurred in one episode - of course, this being Natsume Yuujinchou, it's obvious what ended up happening.
Left Hanging: Mostly related to Reiko. Who was Reiko's baby-daddy? Why is she always seen in her high school uniform in a youkai's flashbacks? Why did she never actually use the book of friends? There are hinted to be answers to these questions, but fourteen volumes into the manga, we still have not gotten them.
And: Could Takashi's mother see youkai? Who or what killed Takashi's parents?
Les Yay: Invoked - Hinoe's outright adoration and utter devotion to Reiko, her dislike of men (it's of great annoyance to her that Takashi Natsume looks so much like her Reiko yet is male), and her distraught reaction at hearing of Reiko's death, are anything but subtle.
Mayfly-December Romance: any relationship between youkai and human is doomed to end this way, it seems, because of the human's short lifespan in comparison to a youkai's.
Notably averted with Shibata (human) and Murasaki (youkai). It was Murasaki who was about to disappear. There was also a firefly youkai who died before the human she loved.
Although youkai have the potential to live for centuries, death for them can be quite sudden when it does come.
Meaningful Echo: Natori calls Natsume "a nice kid... just a nice kid" not long after their first meeting. It turns out this is exacty the same thing a youkai once said to Natori himself, when he helped her as a child.
No Social Skills: While Natsume is perfectly fine at being polite (he thought if he wasn't, people would have yet another reason to throw him out of their house), but he's terrible at actually developing friendships with other people and has problems sharing his concerns with anyone, even if he logically knows that he really should.
Natsume: Iím sorry, Tanuma. I know that you and Taki will listen to me, but Iíve never talked to anyone about this stuff before. No oneís ever listened to me before... I donít know how to talk about it.
In fact, those who are able to see or sense ayakashi have somewhat poor social skills. This includes Matoba, who seems to have No Sense of Personal Space in the anime.
Not What It Looks Like: To his intense embarrassment, Touko once walked in on a half-dressed Natsume while he was examining a youkai-made mark on his chest in the bathroom mirror. She thinks he's doing something else.
Touko: Well, you are that age...
Obviously Evil: A few youkai, although some of them simply lack morals as opposed to being truly malevolent.
Oddly Named Sequel: The second season prefixed Zoku (続), meaning "continued", to the title, making it Zoku Natsume Yuuijichou.
Note that zoku spelled with a different kanji (族) can also mean "family" of a non-genetic nature, like True Companions. This has a lot of significance to Natsume since it's what he gained throughout the course of the series.
Only Six Faces: The manga falls victim to this (Natsume and Nishimura could be twins). The anime, less so.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Well, there's Natori's exorcist"disguise" for starters... sometimes even managing to forgo the hat and still not get recognized by passerby. Not only that, but when humans want to blend in with youkai, their most drastic measure usually is to just cover their eyes with a literal paper-thin mask of some sort. Might be slightly justified in the latter case though, given the nature of youkai.
Right Behind Me: Nyanko-sensei actually joins in on the Nyanko-sensei bashing before the other Youkai actually realize that he can hear them.
Secret Test of Character: Turns out that Natsume being marked with the Five Day Curse from a particuarly vicious spirit was orchestrated by one of his own contracted youkai, who wanted to test Natsume to see whether he was worthy of holding onto his name.
Slice of Life: This show's secondary theme, alongside the supernatural.
Soul Power: People with enough spiritual power can see, hear, and touch youkai, and can do things like seal evil spirits, perform exorcisms, and punch youkai clear across a room; they can also hear what Nyanko-sensei is actually saying, instead of it sounding like he's just meowing. Those with just a little spiritual power can hear Nyanko-sensei, but not do any of the other things.
Stock Footage: Natsume's method of returning the spirits names to them, (it's really a rather pretty piece of stock).
Taking the Bullet: Sorta. In chapter 26 Natsume takes an arrow for Nyanko-sensei although it kind of doesn't live up to its merit as the next one hits and disables Nyanko-sensei for several days. And in the anime, Matoba manages to hit both of them with one arrow.
The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: One of Nyanko-Senseis several explanations for not letting the Ayakashi get to Natsume is because Natsume promsied Nyanko-sensei the Book of Friends upon his death - he regularly calls Natsume "His Prey" - and no one else's.
Those Two Guys: Kitamoto and Nishimura like whoa. Although they do get way more screen time and focus than most examples; a good deal more than Taki and Tanuma, in fact, despite being unaware of Natsume's abilities. Just not much character development other than being friendly, hilarious, and Nishimura has a crush on Taki.
Though they did teach Natsume how to ride a bike part way through the story.
They now have their own focus chapters—chapter 51.1 (Nishimura) and chapter 51.2 (Kitamoto). These detail how they each met Natsume and became friends with him through unsuspected encounters with youkai, and a little on their home lives and families.
There's also a youkai example with the cyclops and bull youkai. They get a well-above-average amount of focus as well.
There Are No Psychiatrists: In this case, a good thing; as a child, Takashi's caretakers tended to think of him as a liar who misbehaved to get attention and gave up on him, rather than sending him to get therapy which he didn't need since the things that he saw were real.
Three Amigos: Natsume, Taki, and Tanuma, once Natsume properly introduces them to each other.
Tsundere: Hinoe has her moments. Also Madara and Natsume to each other. Don't EVER try to point out the fact that they get along well, or BOTH of them will deny, deny, deny.
Unfinished Business: Depsite not quite being ghosts, a lot of Youkai seem to have some particular task they're desperate to complete before they move onto the next world. Many seek Natsume out to do this.
The Worf Effect: The Matoba clan and Matoba himself quickly establish themselves as to not be fucked around with by being able to not only cause serious damage to Nyanko-Sensei in his Madara form, but knock him out of it altogether.